Rail - In and out of Tokyo by Train, Tokyo
There's this website that they show you the real live data of JR trains and other trains in English. you just type your destination and you will know the cost, time it takes to travel and the trains to take, right down to the train number and platform, and the exact timetable schedule of the train. Go to http://grace.hyperdia.com/cgi-english/hyperd01.cgi
If you can read Chinese characters, it's no problem for you to get around. Each train shows the kanji characters of their destination. Romanji is also shown at times, but not as frequently. Something very important: you MUST remember the end destination of the train. (So you don't get onto the wrong train) For eg. if you're going to Omiya from Hoshakuji like I do, you must know that the end destination is Ueno, because all the trains will only reflect this and there's no train map in most of the trains. But the good thing is, they will annouce each stop when they get to it, so you can look out for that.
As long as the train carriage you're in doesn't have two levels or double decked (you'll know what i mean when you see it), it's unreserved, which means you can sit anywhere, even if they have seat numbers on it. Seating arrangements are different in each train, so don't be surprised if you see some trains with seats lining the sides and facing each other or those which face forward/backward.
As a non-Japanese educated foreigner it is very daunting being confronted by the complexity of the Rail system around Tokyo area. You have enough trouble finding which line takes to there, but at least you dont have to worry about how much to pay with this tip. Buy a ticket at the machine just paying the minimum fare. When you arrive at destination (or when you have to change lines such as between JR line and local subway), before going though the turn-styles, there is a fare-adjustment machine to one side - look for it. Insert your ticket and it will tell you the extra you have to pay to exit the line at this point.
Also - most JR line ticket machines can accept many coins at once, so instead of slowly fumbling though unfamiliar lose change in your wallet - you can push in a hand-full of 'schrapnel' (loose change), the machine will count it and return back to you the excess!
From Narita Airport, I would recommend that you take the Airport Limousine, which runs to major areas within Tokyo. Upon exiting Customs, the Airport Limousine counter should be within sight. You only need to tell them which hotel you're staying at, and the staff will inform you when the next bus is leaving. The routes usually run around a specific area (e.g. Shinjuku) and they will stop at the hotels in that area, so you just need to hop off at your desired stop.
Fares are 3000 yen (USD 30) one-way. You can book the Airport Limousine to go to Narita from your hotel as well.
To travel between the Airport and Tokyo itself, you can also take the train, which stops at Tokyo station. From there, you can connect to the JR to your hotel.
I would not recommend that you take the taxi for airport transfers, as it can easily run up to 24000 yen (USD 240) for this 1.5 hour journey.
If you're travelling within the main areas in Tokyo, I recommend you make use of the pervasive train lines, which should run to almost any place that a tourist is likely to go.
You can also connect to other cities outside Tokyo by the Shinkansen (bullet train), but tickets should be pre-booked, as the trains come with assigned seats. The trains are not cheap (esp the Shinkansen), so If you're intending to travel around JP by train, you can purchase a rail pass in your home country, which makes it cheaper.
If you are flying into Narita Airport, as most people from outside of Japan going into Tokyo do, I would highly reccomend buying a JR Rail Pass. It can be used immediately on the Narita Express, which will get you into Tokyo and to Tokyo Station.
The Pass is also helpful if you plan to make day trips to places like Kyoto or Sendai. It is also much faster and much less expensive than taking a taxi from the airport.
A JR Rail pass can be purchased from the following web site Japan Rail Pass. The site offers passes for sale and has 7 different langauge pages to choose from.
This is a popular route to/from Shinjuku and Hakone. You can buy the Hakone Freepass which offers return train ticket on Odakyu Line to/from Shinjuku/Hakone and unlimited rides on its Hakone trains, buses, cable cars and ropeways.
I purchased the Hakone Weekday Freepass at 4700 yen per person. The ticket is valid for 2 days. If you want to travel in luxury, pay an extra 870 yen one-way and sit on the "Romance" car. The trip lasts 1.5 hours and is normally non-stop from Shinjuku to either Odawara or Hakone-yumoto.
1-1-3 Nishi-shinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 160-8309 Japan
Just a warning if you have a fear of being in tight spaces. DO NOT travel real early morning, if you are going into tokyo. I myself don't have this problem , but got a bit scared . You will get pushed off and on the train at each stop. So just be prepared
Like "All Roads Lead to Rome" - all railroads lead to Tokyo in Japan.
Better know to foreigners as the "bullet trains". These trains can reach average speeds of 280Kmp/h and serve all major cities on the island of Honshu and as far south as Hakata, the train stop which serves Fukuoka. Tokyo is well served by the shinkansen, they pass through en-route to either Osaka / Kyoto and as far south to Hakata or in the opposite direction north reaching Niigata and Akita, going almost every 30 min or so during the day.
The shinkansen is definately the best way to travel in Japan and can be even used by the "budget" traveller, that's being budget minded for Japan! It is important to know that discounted tickets for 7, 14 and 30 days unlimited travel can be bought, but must be purchased outside of Japan. This makes Japan a viable travel option as a short trip of 7 days for example from Korea. A seven days JR (Japan Rail) pass, valid for all JR train travel, including shinkansen, can be purchased at a number of travel agents / ferry booking offices in Korea for about 300,000won (US$260), a real bargin!
Kamakura is the original capital of Japan (currently Tokyo, previously Kyoto). By JR it is approximately 1 hour train ride from Tokyo station. This is perfect mode of travel if you are pinching your dollar (or yen) and not in a hurry. Also great for people watching, you get to meet and see more locals in their day to day life.
Keisei Line from Narita Airport Terminal 1 and 2 to Ueno or Nippori is the cheapest way to Tokyo. You can buy the ticket at Narita both Terminal 1F. An hour from Narita to Ueno Station with only 2000JPY.
Narita Express is one of the most convenient way to reach Tokyo from Narita Airport. The service is regular hourly and on peak hours every half an hour. The journey takes about 53 minutes to Tokyo station. The ordinary seats are very comfortable and leg space is wide. The ordinary one-way ticket costs about 3000 JPY to Tokyo. If you get Suica&NEX card, you will get a huge discount on Narita Express to Tokyo. You can get more details on that in my suica card tip.
The JR and various train lines can initially be quite daunting, but if you spend a bit of time at the station reading up & studying the lines, you'll be fine.
Within metropolitan Tokyo, there are English wordings at all stations. I was able to get all the way from Shinjuku station to Narita town & airport and Disneyland, Chiba (about 2 hours out of Tokyo town) with little difficulty. However, once you get to the outskirts of Tokyo, there might not be as many stations with English wordings.
I found the people manning the Information Counter to be extremely helpful. The ones I met all spoke English and were clear in outlining the various options and they even provided my husband and I with a little mini route map. If you have to choose, approach a lady rather than a man. The ladies tend to smile more and are friendlier. The men tend to be brusque and more impatient.
*Updated (2009): A Useful Tip: "Topping-Up Ticket" Machine*
As for the ticket, if you underpay when you purchase the ticket, you can top up the ticket difference on the other side, so don't worry at all about getting it right. That's why I observed that many people simply purchase the lowest value tickets, and then ride the subway freely. When they get out on the other side, they would top up the difference using the top-up machine.
What the machine does is read the value on your ticket, the station that you had commenced your journey on, and calculate the difference by which you have to top up. This works even when you've changed stations numerous times, within the same train or JR network.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has prepared some tips for tourists on how to travel around Tokyo using various transport options - click on the link below
Tokyo is like a maze of Train lines...
It's sometimes hard to find which line to use and where to get off and such only on guide books or signs.
So, I'll introduce to you 2 websites where you can search train routes in English!
This site allows you to search routes within Tokyo and its neighbouring areas only by clicking on your mouse.
You can search routes anywhere in Japan on this site, but you can't use if you misspell the station names.
I have pasted the information from Japan Tourism Board here.
It's cheaper if you are planning to use the train on other days or pay 3000 yen for airport shuttle.
(The Japan Rail Pass is available only to people from abroad who wish to come to Japan as "temporary visitors" for sightseeing. It is usually necessary to purchase an Exchange Order through a travel agency abroad so that the Exchange Order can be exchanged for a Japan Rail Pass after entering Japan.
It is very important to remember that only those who receive the entry status "temporary visitor" stamped in their passports are eligible to obtain the Japan Rail Pass. In order to receive your Japan Rail Pass, you need to take your Exchange Order to an applicable Japan Rail station, upon arrival in Japan, which has a Japan Rail Pass exchange office.
The Exchange Order of Japan Rail Pass can be purchased from overseas offices of JTB Corp., JALPAK, Nippon Travel Agency Co., Ltd., Kintetsu International, and Toptour Corporation plus their affiliated travel agencies in various countries. Overseas offices of Japan Airlines(JAL)* and All Nippon Airways(ANA) also handle the Exchange Order. *When using JAL group flight.)
I just loved the shinkansen trains (bullet trains)! Their punctuality, the way they stop at the stations exactly at door marks painted on the platform. The train staff was incredibly polite: they bow at entering and leaving the car and move very discreetly so as not to disturb anyone. But most importantly, the trains are such a quick way of getting places, especially the Nozomi trains, they are the fastest. From Tokyo to Osaka (550 km) in 2,5 hours. Easy and highly recommended.
We encountered a bunch of extremely mild-mannered Japanese travellers, whose seats we had taken by accident, instead of ours. They stood around in one part of the coach, extremely reluctant to ask us to check if we had the right seat numbers etc. It was probably an hour into the journey when they finally asked and we made an embarassed correction to our seating plan! Typically japanese!